Sunday, December 14, 2008

Simple Spark! - "Spark Restaurant & Lounge - Provo Utah"

I may be a Simple Woman, but what I'm about to share with you is anything but simple!

Chris and I have been hearing about this new fancy restaurant in Provo called Spark Restaurant Lounge, and being the foodie wannabe's that we are, we've been wanting to try it out, and see if the hype was worth it, or overrated. One of Chris' friends tried it out and recommended the Chef's Tasting Table, in fact he raved about it. Instead of ordering your food like normal, you just sit back and the Chef sends out whatever he feels like. You have to make a reservation, and you have to know about it to request it- Chris felt my birthday was the perfect excuse to splurge on a special night out. When he made the reservation, they said to make sure we set aside about 2 1/2 hours of time- what?? Really?? So we eagerly looked forward to our Saturday date night, and I thought it would ironic to share our not so simple meal for Simple Sunday, and you can live vicariously through us.

(Since I'm only going to be raving about the Chef's Table, I want to throw in that they have a normal menu, and everything we saw go to tables around us looked fabulous, it would be worth a try for anyone in the area, and we will be going back soon to try some of the things we didn't sample! By the way, I wouldn't recommend it for kids, but it's a great date place, and not only for the food, but fun people watching too).

So Saturday came and we dressed up nice, and hit the town (Provo, Utah that is ;) in a snowstorm and all. I was prepared to not only have dinner, but to have an experience, I just wasn't exactly sure what that experience was going to be? But I went with an open mind and was prepared to try anything they brought out.
They don't serve any alcohol, but have an interesting drink menu, so naturally we started with drinks- for Chris, a Mango Mojito (Mango, Lime, Mint, Seltzer). And for me, an Apple Martini (I always tease Chris that if I was a drinker I would order depending on the coolest glass- I win) Allred Orchard Apple Juice (locally grown), with fall spices, seltzer, and an apple olive. Yum!
P.S. More about their drinks, they have a Shirley Temple that comes garnished with Cotton Candy, it looked very fun. They also have a whole selection of interesting and mostly natural sodas from all over the world...

So unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of our first two courses, I was too excited, sorry. You'll have to use your imagination. I'm sure if the Chef were to read this post, he would correct many of the details, as I'm sharing from memory and my own experience, but love is in the details, so I will do my best to share as much as I do know, or can remember.
(And there was a lot to remember...)
Naturally, the first course was thinly sliced french bread served with butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt, which surprisingly added a nice flavor and slight crunch. Our second course was soup brought out in a covered bowl the size of a teacup, with a demitasse spoon- it was an Apple and Celery Root Broth topped with a brown butter foam. The flavors were mild, subtle but distinctive, and a great warm start to a fabulous meal.

Our next course was this House Cured Salmon topped with Chive and Potato Threads, drizzled with Olive Oil, and garnished with a sprinkling of Mineral Salt, and Jalapeno Zest. This was one of Chris' favorites, and we loved mixing and matching flavors in our bites and made sure to use the food to get all the little sprinklings and drizzlings of extra flavor- fun and yummy!
Next was a Shrimp Ceviche with Citrus- I found it interesting because best I could tell, the Shrimp was in a lemon juice, but had small grapefruit segments on the side and was garnished with lime zest- forming a nice mix of citruses. (Grapefruit and other citrus was one of the recurring themes of the night, which created a nice flow, and reminders of previous dishes)
You'd be (only slightly) bored if I only shared pictures of food, so Happy Birthday to Me!

The previous course was cold and fresh and citrusy which made this next one that much better, because it was warm and smooth and comforting. This was the one I was most skpetical of when they brought it out, but it won most surprising for me, and was (besides the desserts) Chris' favorite. It was a Truffled Potato Risotto with shaved Mushrooms, and we think an herbed Olive Oil. I'm not really a mushroom person, but I loved them shaved and on this dish.Time for Chris' second drink of the evening, I think he ordered this from sheer curiousity. It was called Hot and Cold and features a warm lime bottom, with a cold Coke top. Great presentation, and more subtle than he would have expected.
Oops, I forgot to take the picture when they first brought it out, so it's not as pretty as it was, the plate was dotted with fresh Beet puree and Balsamic Vinegar, very bright and pretty. This was our Beet Salad (I am keeping an open mind...) It was actually a lot tastier than I expected but still not one of my favorites. But it had a great mix of Beets- bed of shaved fresh Beet, topped with roasted Beet, and what we think is an herbed goat cheese, and an orange segment, topped with Beet jelly and a fresh Beet leaf and more potato threads, surrounded by the dots of fresh Beet puree and Balsamic Vinegar.
Here is the start of our Main dishes- Pan Seared Salmon (skin on, nice and crispy), on a bed of Orzo Carbonara, and Spinch Puree. Both Chris and I were surprised that we liked the crispy skin on the Salmon that was perfectly cooked.
Next came a Chicken Confit served with "Melted Onion" and seared orange segments, and a Bitter Orange Sauce. The sauce was beautiful, but so good, we both wished we had more of it. The chicken was topped with what we figured to be crispy chicken skin, and the seared orange segments were so tasty!
Oops, another one I forgot to get when it was in it's beautiful state- but it was medallions of Poached Scallop, topped with a single medallion of Cucumber jelly, Pencil Asparagus (they are so much better that size!), Citrus segments, drizzled with Olive Oil, and a sprinkling of Paprika. I found it interesting throughout the night that the chef combined so many interesting flavors in each dish but that none of them were very strong or overpowering, and enjoyed the way that each flowed so nicely into the next.
We overheard the Manager (?) explaining a drink to someone in the lounge, and after asking him about it, he kindly brought one for Chris to try (on the House). It is a Japanese soda where the whole fun part is how you open it, instead of a cork, the bottle is designed with a Marble on top that you pop into the bottle where it rocks in it's own cradle... very cool! And the soda was pretty good too, it was a Strawberry soda, but the Strawberry flavor tasted more natural than most overly sweet and fake Strawberry sodas- but it's all about popping the marble- just fun!
So the decor is reminiscent of maybe a New York loft style, with slate grey walls, and simple sleek furnishings. There is "art" on the walls from local artists that apparently changes monthly- the best I can say about the art last night is that they are conversation pieces... which may have been greatly improved with a touch from Isabelle, or even Claire!? We didn't want to be obvious about taking pics of the art, so I did get one of this cool chandelier.
Chris' friend had recommended their special wannabe Wine, Matt liked it so much that he bought three bottles, so I had to try it. It's a special Napa Valley Pinot Noir grape juice. And not being a wine drinker myself ;) I have to say that it was a pretty good grape juice!
This isn't my favorite pic, but I promised Chris I would put it in- he thinks my eyes are funny!
This too was one of our favorites- it's a braised Short Rib on a bed of Celery Root puree, with Apple Cider sauce, topped with Garlic Foam, and a side of Pickled Beets! The short rib was fork tender and delicious and Chris thought the pickled Beets (another theme last evening) were fabulous! By this point in the meal, I was definitely slowing down between bites and we were town between never wanting the evening to end, and yet, starting to feel really full! But we knew what had to be coming, there is always room for dessert~!

This was so unexpected and wonderful, after feeling so full and satisfied after the last course- this was a fresh completely different course than we were expecting. Our fabulous waitress, Kayla, introduced this as our Cheese course- Parmiggiano Reggiano Ice Cream on a bed of crumbles (what, we're not exactly sure, but it was yummy!), with both fresh Pear and Vanilla Poached Pear (so good!), and candied Beets, with fresh Mint leaves. Parmesan Ice Cream may sound a little out of the ordinary but it was absolutely delightful (particularly when paired with the Vanilla Poached Pear)!! And of all the ways we had had Beets in the evening, the candied Beets were my favorite!
Our next dessert, how amazing does a dinner have to be to be finished by more than one dessert (not to mention, two unique Ice Creams)!?? Awesome! This was Bacon and Eggs Ice Cream on baked Apples, with Vanilla whipped cream, and candied bacon. This might sound weird to some but it was absolutely amazing! Chris and I both loved the Apples with the Vanilla Whipped Cream (so light and airy and heavenly) the best- and the Eggs and Bacon Ice Cream was just amazing, and delicious. They have a similar dessert on their regular menu that I would highly recommend, and would love to try!
Kayla described this as their "Piece de Resistance" - and it delivered. It was Smoked Dark Chocolate with White Chocolate Vanilla Bean Mousse, Rye Wafer Cookies, on a bed of dried Cherry crumbles, and an Elder Flower syrup. It also came served with a Chocolate Soda on the side! Naturally, the Chocolate was rich and delicious- the dark, warm and creamy with just a hint of smokiness, topped with light, airy mousse. The Cherry crumbles added a wonderful sweet and sour element, and the drizzle of Elder Flower syrup added it's own fabulous tartness, while the Rye cookie (and Dried Cherry) added a contrasting crunch. The Chocolate Soda was the perfect accompaniment because it not only added a complementary Chocolate element, but worked as a nice and subtle palate cleanser as well.
Mostly all Chris could say about this was, "Wow!!" It was heavenly!

The final course and perfect end to our meal was what they called Liquified Caramel Popcorn! It was warm, and smooth with the perfect subtle butter and sweet caramel flavors. Rich and light at the same time, with a tasty airy foam on top! It seemed a fitting end to me as well since our meal had begun with a warm, subtle flavored broth topped with airy foam. And to our delight, the Chefs came out during this course to meet us, and get our feedback- but we were happy to be able to personally meet and thank them for a fabulous evening.
Yes, it was that good!

So, we had been prepared to have a few "tastes" spread over the course of about two and a half hours, what we weren't prepared for was to have 14 fabulous courses (and five unique drinks) served so perfectly over the course of 3 hours. We left so full and happy, and surprised! And even though it was a little costly, it was absolutely worth it. We got to try new flavors and new combinations, and old flavors in new ways. We got to talk and laugh and have fun together. And I think the night exceeded even our own expectations. And we laughed because each time we asked each other today, "Are you still full?" - the answer was always a surprising, "Yes!"
I bet we'll be back soon...
to try the Shirley Temple, Cumin Fries, Pork Two Ways, and Hazelnut Soup!

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Well, my house is beginning to look a lot like Christmas- today, it even felt like it while I was baking a Gingerbread House... (more on that later), And it started to snow outside (our first real snow). I've been talking about decking my halls, and promised pictures- so here you go!
My entry -- Welcome!
Family room, and mantel, complete with my Christmas village

Family room tree, changed the colors this year- and I love it!

My blue and silver dining room, complete with Blue and Silver tree--- love it!

Christmas Lights!

So most of you know that Chris hates to hang Christmas lights... and in the 11 years that we've been married, I have only previously convinced him to hang them up once! But this year, I'm not sure if it was the peer pressure from the nieghbor's (we have a very festive and well lit block), or the fact that we are in a new house, or the influence from the kids, or that it was unseasonably warm (and he didn't have to hang them in the snow). Whatever it was, he caved and here is the evidence that we have Christmas lights on our house! (and he was even a good sport about it, and he even had to get more because he decided he wanted Icicle lights too-- who knew!?)


We spent Thanksgiving with our family and friends at the DeSantiago's home! We had a fabulous feast, that once we were finished eating still looked like we had hardly touched it. I was of course in charge of the baking- stuffing, homemade rolls, Pumpkin Almond Praline Pie, Pumpkin Crisp, and a cookie wreath (wish I had gotten a pic of that- it turned out great!), and my now famous Tart Cranberry dipping sauce! Frank and Ivana made turkey breasts and ham, and of course we had all the usual trimmings- and it was so great we never wanted to stop eating (hence the fact I had no room for dessert!)
The Kid's Table!Bird's Eye View!
Frank the Chef...
Yummy Yummy Yummy!!

Mom and Dad's Visit

What would a visit from family be without great food?- I spent a lot of time in the kitchen but the food was fantastic, and I love to take care of my parents since they have always taken such good care of me! If anyone wasn't fat and happy, it wasn't my fault!
Abby showing off her new necklace that she made with Grandma's help!
Claire is concentrating very hard... and did a great job on her necklace!
Dad brought a whole stash of beads to make necklaces with the girls and they loved spending time with Grandma and Grandpa- he also did an art afternoon but I'm not sure where those pics are!?
Mom and Dad also brought early Christmas with them... our girls think Christmas lasts all of November and December!? Hahaha... but we had a great early Christmas morning with lot's of gifts from Mom and Dad...
Being the good Grandma- she helped put Claire's new doll accessories together!
Claire loves her new baby!
The super soft pillows were a huge success!
Cute new clothes!
Zach is going to be so fun this Christmas, he's just figuring out all about presents and Santa... Yea
Abby the little Chef got a cooking set, that she loves to get in the kitchen and use with me...
We were all smiles and gratitude- Mom and Dad spoiled us all rotten! Even Chris and I!
Mom and Dad brought Christmas early with them on their visit in November--- too fun!
Look at that stash, we don't even need to have another Christmas morning... fun and spoiled!